tv White House Chronicles PBS February 19, 2012 9:00am-9:30am EST
captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- >> hello, i'm llewellyn king, the host of "white house chronicle " which is coming right up. today, i connue my intriguing conversation with john rowe, the retiring chief executive officer of exelon corp. john rowe is just -- not just a
utility executive. he is a man of history, a man of enormous interests outside his professional industrial career, which has been hugely successful. in a time when we tend to look and measure people only by the success of their businesses, it is absolutely fascinating to hear john rowe talk about those things that led him to business success and those things that are simply a great passion with him. we will be right back. >> "white house chronicle" is produced in collaboration with whut, howard university television. now, your program host, nationally syndicated columnist llewellyn king, and co-host linda gasparello. captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- >> hello again, and thank you
for coming along. i promised you the extraordinary john rowe and here is the extraordinary john rowe. welcome to the broadcast. you are a historian. you love history. how should people read history? what is a good way for a young person to read history without really running bang smack into english kings and getting tired of them and some french kings to confuse them. >> and welch kings, every hillock had a king. i think the right way to start is actually a story, a good historical fiction writer who did "ancient britain and the land of our ancestors." but history is fundamentally stories. and even the most factual history is still the effort by someone to assemble a ragged set
of facts into a cohesive narrative. but history is in the end a narrative. you can use quasi-scientific tools but what makes history lived for people is it is a story. it is a story about people making war, making love, making money, making temples, fornicating in the temples. >> that would get some young people reading. >> well, if that is what it takes. it seems to me that you want to get people into why it is important, how risky life has been, the fact that it is not to
astonishing that it is still risky. i took out to one of our charter schools and auschwitz survivor, 15 african-american and latino kids, some of whom have very hard stories themselves, simply in awe of this woman what she had been through and how gracefully she emerged. you needed to tie history not only two names and dates, which you must do, but to its action and its passion, and indeed, to its objects. i find when i go out to school if i can take a thing that relates to the period, maybe a korean -- coim. been a little injection. we look at this. we saw it in the previous program. you said it is 2600 years old? egyptian version of the
terracotta warriors. >> in a strangely humanistic cents, both are more genteel substitutes for prior practices of burying your warriors or your family with you. >> religion -- it does not matter, whenever there were groups of people some of their religions. south america, ancient egypt. what do you think of the role of religion in history. has it been divisive, has been sustaining? >> surely bank, both. some of the best thing that ever happened were done in the name of god and some of the worst. but even somebody like me who is not very devout in a sectarian cents -- somebody who's views of the universe are mostly empirical and mechanistic just has to recognize that science and never explains everything.
and while we have a great many more things that we profess to know about than our ancestors to thousand or 3000 years ago did, there are a whole lot of the important things we do not know much about at all. to me, if he simply say there is no role of conceiving religion -- i will try to avoid the word rarely hit -- revelation -- you are really leaving everything up to tyche, the goddess of chance, and i really do not think it is an intellectual improvement. >> do you reach into history to find comfort from an individual -- churchill or lincoln. among those are good places for conferred. others your region to to find a lesson of keep your dagger loose in your scabbard -- >> caesar. >> more than one lesson to get out of history and it never actually add up.
anybody who thinks you can read history and "find the answer" is deluding himself. but if you look at it and say i can read history and find metaphors that may help me lead me to a better answer is quite useful. >> in your historical world, education did not seem to be a problem. but education is a huge problem today and every it danced country is having difficulty teaching its kids. in my generation there was not the difficulty. but in this generation it is a difficulty. and it is true in every advanced country essentially, except with -- for those with very strong influence or recently strong church influence like ireland. >> my wife and i are very interested in the challenges of an urban education. i suspect we over-glossed the virtues of education 200 years ago.
my grandparents left school in high-school. some of them graduated, some did not. it was not also pretty then, either, and we did not make any efforts to help those who could not keep up. where today we probably over burden our system with extra efforts for those who cannot keep up. and we pause for station identification. primarily for our listeners on siriusxm channel 124 -- you are listening to "white house chronicle" with myself, llewellyn king, and john rowe, extraordinary chairman, outgoing chairman of exelon corp., which is why i am in chicago. also seen around the globe on the english language broadcasts of the voice of america and on 200 selects television stations in the u.s. john rowe -- tell me more about
urban education. what is the fix? is there a fix? >> there is not one fix. there are many fixes and they are all very hard work. jean and i got into this charter school movement for two reasons. one was that the senate committee, which was a group of corporate ceo's in chicago trying to figure out why effort after effort to change the results from the chicago public school system seemed unsuccessful and had philosophically, upon charter schools and a possible solution. the other was that i went home one night and my wife says, you know, john, you love universities and museums but the kids growing up in our schools cannot go to those universities and museums because they did not even know what they would be looking for. and so, it was really her
passion that got us started. but we first invested in and high-school and then realized the kids were all too far behind when they got there, so now we are investing in an elementary school, too. she helps teach at the elementary school and runs a group for girls at the high school and i kibbitz the history classes. >> is it one day a week? >> basically one day every other week. and i will try to do more after i retire. but they really need professional teachers as well as authorized kibbitzer. but the things we learn our that -- at our charter schools can work must better mostly because you attract teachers with more open-ended commitments. they are simply willing to work longer days and to take more
extra steps for their kids. partly because the charter schools have more old-fashioned discipline. i don't mean the ride or the strap. i simply mean if you go to a charter school you sign up to evade the rules and you know that you will be sent home if you do not. it makes a huge difference. partly, the teachers are expecting that the kids can learn up to norm's instead of assuming that these are kids from tough streets who can't. and there is no magic. we don't take kids that are three years behind grade in their reading and turn them into harvard students in four years. but we were able at our high school to get 86 out of our 87 graduates into college. some of them, pretty good colleges. and some of those kids are doing pretty well as college and others are struggling.
and some will drop out, but many will make it. and the numbers in chicago for african americans are at 6% go to college. i mean, in a technologically competitive society, we are wasting 25% or 30% of our people. >> how do you confuse people with the joy of knowing and the rewards that exist? the reason you and i read books is because there is joy in them for us. how can we tell other people -- and if i can interrupt. a story. my father was not a letter that man and he did not read. once i said to him when he lived for africa and i did not see him often -- once i said to him, don't just sit in your chair and do all night smoking good will it be better if you read a book? and he says, well, it is only other people's second and thought, isn't it, son?
and i did not have the smarts to say, you would find that if you read that you have not taken the program it alone. i fail to teach my father that. how they teach that to kids? >> you have to get them to share the joy first. and i am not sure i am particularly good at that. because i once had a loss to the tell me that i fail to meet jefferson and hamilton relevant -- had a law student tell me that i failed to make jefferson and hamilton relevant. >> but you have done it in the utility industry where i have seen ceo of the hanging on your words about this threat as i have not seen them hanging on words about profitability. unwelcome of sometimes they are hanging on my words to hang me. -- >> well, sometimes they are hanging on my words to hang me. i have been working with a group of bright kids about world war ii and the holocaust. and i have learned as much about them as they have learned about world war ii.
you know, one boy said to me -- mr. rowe, there are just so many names and so much politicians. how can this be so exciting to you? i say, you know, 50 million people did die from the failure of these politics. the risk of failure is so large. but somehow i didn't get across to him the excitement of it. i did show the class exurbs from leni riefenstal's "triumph of the will" and asked can you understand how such a fairly evil leader can attract such enthusiasm? they would all not. i got that much through. -- they would all nod. but they did not grasp enough about how important it was. i think the underlying problem
was that they needed to read a simple book with a lot action in it before i ask them to read the biography of hitler. it is like -- i started with landmark books. a cute history for young people in the 1950's. but yet, they were not in beijing. and then i read novels about soldiers and cowboys and indians and this and that, and it all interacts. and the older you get, once you know you are excited, then it is easier to want to know why the exciting thing happened. but it is hard to start with the why until you have the enthusiasm. >> we live in an age of distraction. there are many things to command our time -- television, gadgets, telephones from ipad's, but i just wondered if there is not a
good in this because suddenly kids can access an answer every question. google may not be 100 percent accurate or wikipedia, but my goodness, what better than when we had to get a huge book and go through with to get the answer to a question. i find in my life i looking things up all the time for the pure reason i want to know. nothing to do with my work or anything else. >> llewle -- the greatest destruction of all is not media, it is sex, and even you and i had that -- >> i hope you are not telling something sad -- >> but we want manage to get interested in other things, too. >> when i dropped out of school, because i wanted women and liquor. i got a liquor but the women were much harder to come by. >> the lesson that the social utility is not evenly distributed. i believe that with hard work we
can catch these kids. one of these things i want to do some time is try to have a class that compares the illiad to gang warfare. i know the illy add and these things does not but they know a lot more about gang warfare than i did. and i think we would find that the same things homer recites is making -- making a great mycenaean were chief makes a great gang leader. >> this is "lincoln and his generals" that we talk about a lot and you recommended very much. why is it this book particularly you recommend? benowitz asked about shakespeare because you have an interest in him, to. i have to confess i have not read it.
>> i am going to -- >> is it will not correct you and may even give you a copy on your way out -- if it will not corrupt you. there are so many great books about lincoln because he is a good candidate for the greatest man who ever lived. but what makes this one unique is because it is written very well by a very good historian about his challenges as it is basically country lawyer who has been in washington and has been a successful state politician. but all of the sudden he has this great war to deal with. and it is truly the greatest management challenge of the age. and he has politicians, relatives proposed for general ships. he has a great soldier in winfield scott but the fellow is frankly passed it, both
physically and mentally. he has charles halleck who is intellectually gifted but not a good general. he has mcclellan's who knows everything about training and nothing about fighting. he has this funny guy the ones in a while had alcohol problems out in the west who seems to win. and he has this old cacophony of experts and relatives being thrust upon him, and somehow through several years of trial and error, he keeps making mistakes until he comes up with grant and sherman and thomas and he finally gets people who can beat the confederate generals. and it is a wonderful lesson because, you know, he does not
have a revelation. he does not come in and get it right. and even when he had doubts about a general, he knows there are political issues about removing him. it is a wonderful lesson in a truly great man pursuing great ends with huge constraints. and what makes it great as he does not do it flawlessly but he does it adequately. >> after lincoln we mentioned in the same brand churchill and lincoln -- church hill was a man who failed a lot. not flsawed in the usual way -- not flawed in the usual way, maybe by ego and arrogance, and yet in his grand time -- he had his fingers in everything for 60 years. he was involved in iris settlement, the start of the
world war, and was in fact 65 years old when he became prime minister come a time, i might know, when we retire our executives in america. >> churchill is an example of a brilliant man who is always short. and when he is right about what he is certain, which is hitler, one of the great men of the age. and when he is wrong, as with india and sometimes with ireland, he is a great failure. >> and with the white russians. >> and fascinates me. there are those of us to kind of model through because we know we are not gifted with revelation. and there are those who think their visions are perfect. it turns out there are strengths and weaknesses in both. if you have the person who is convinced his vision is perfect and they are doing the right thing, they are the best possible agent for the purpose.
but it is nice to have a few of us muddlers around testing if it is right. >> obviously your charity work and teaching, you come back to the holocaust. the holocaust was in my lifetime. i was born in 1939. to me, that is and enormity that this was done when i was alive and it was done to little kids like me. how did it affect you? >> it was, of course, over one i was born in may of 1945. probably did not know if think about until i was a freshman in college. i had a wonderful lecturer in history was in fact -- himself a holocaust survivor. i did not know of the time -- a double escapee, both jewish and gay. and he sort of drew our attention to the enormity of the holocaust -- if not unique, and
especially tragic moment in history. and once you start to pay attention -- i did some additional reading. i found out one of my friends and new england electric was himself a holocaust survivor and his father had died in it. then you start meeting people that you know in town. you go to the holocaust museum in washington, which is maybe the greatest museums areas, and you start realizing in its itnitude and it's insanity is both teaching and unique at the same time. obviously pol pot in cambodia was as vicious in his own way. tutsis and hutus was said in a
smaller scale, but many, many people. the insanity of the holocaust seems greater than all others. but what makes it important, i think, is the scale of the tragedy is so disproportionate, so intensely focused on one body of people for no rational reason at all, and yet it also teaches us about things that humans do to each other again and again. whether it is -- >> politics derailed. >> it is about politics derailed. it is about what happens when we let slip these fragile shakespearean compromises that makes up the grim and grids of political life. >> and compromise, you introduced the word, when we do not hear of washington these days. but in fact it is something we cannot live in a civilized way
without. then i would think so. -- >> i would think so. some political positions made me angrier than others but surely most people realize that solving our national problems requires some combination of entitlement reductions, greater efficiencies, and some form of revenue increases, whether through increasing the rates or broadening the base in some way. i get very angry when the president calls charitable contributions a loophole. i think the kids in my schools would miss my assistance. but whatever the case, they have to have more revenue somehow. them of what we have not mentioned -- diversity. -- >> what we have not mentioned -- diversity. known as diversity for people in minorities -- whether as racial or social or some other way.
are you a supporter of affirmative action? how do you look out for diversity without some form of affirmative action? >is there a mechanism? >> no. affirmative action tools are dangerous, clumsy, and lead to a great many mistakes and inequities. they are still essential. no human organization changes its shape and color without pressure to do it, and that pressure is inevitably some kind of affirmative action. and you make mistakes. and you sometimes do things that are not right. but overall you try to bring about a better result. you can make diversity -- i do not like diversity rhetoric. it makes it sound like every difference is a matter of
indifference. tell that to my most christian or most muslim employees and you drive them to near hysteria. and you are right. there are lots of differences that we do not tolerate. but when it comes to the basic things like race and gender, this is the kind of company that has to provide the best opportunity for all kinds of people. this is a city that is about 30% black. it is probably 33% latino. >> that in chicago, just to remind our listeners. >> politically you cannot function without a commitment to diversity. economically you will be crippled because those people are our customers. and what makes it exciting, of course, like everything else -- the question about the joy of
history. you only really care about diversity when your friends are diverse. my friends include african- americans, latinos, even when in, gay people -- even women. what makes you really convinced is not a theoretical arguments. what makes you convinced is when you genuinely know that your life is better because you know all of these different people. >> that is the challenge in the way we live because we tend to be very stratified. we tend to know people who are like ourselves, no well, and have what has been called a morbid lack of curiosity about other people. >> fortunately that is 1 cent of which you and i -- and >> i think we will end there. a very rare enjoy talking to you, john rowe.